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Renaissance - Live at the Union Chapel CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

4.29 | 13 ratings

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4 stars Any story about RENAISSANCE runs the risk of violating basic rules about brevity and clarity, as their history is even hazier than the decade of their vintage. But let me try. After a lengthy period of silence that followed a period of sub-par sub Renaissance activities by both principal parties, vocalist Annie Haslam and guitarist Michael Dunford united in 2009 around the dream of returning to their roots, meaning the romanticism and ambition of the 1972-1978 period for which the group is justly renowned. Since Renaissance was always as much a live act as a studio venture, part of that dream was to return to the UK (Annie has lived in US for many years) to perform for the first time in decades. While they did manage to produce an album together with a very able backing band, Dunford passed away from a sudden illness in 2012, and the band didn't make it to the UK until some time after, with the DVD in question originating from an April 2015 concert at the Union Chapel. OK now that wasn't so bad.

First of all the scene is splendorous, almost like a high budget Broadway set but absolutely real. The stage is backed by such magnificence that it almost gives the impression of open air, which is highly unlikely in the UK in April! As to the band, none being members during the group's time in the spotlight, they nonetheless do the legacy proud. Rave Tesar plays the parts that had belonged to John Tout, mostly piano, always a signature of the group's sound, while Tom Brislin operates the rest of the keyboards, mostly fitted to approximate the orchestra. Acoustic guitarist Mark Lambert is as critical for his vocal counterpoints to Annie as he is to propelling the classic amp-less arrangements. Frank Pagano and Leo Traversa buttress the rock aspect of the group, and perhaps what is missing most is Jon Camp's chunky bass as far as I can tell.

No Renaissance story would be worth telling if it didn't also jump forwards as well, and at the time of writing they have since performed with a chamber orchestra on several tours in the US Northeast and released one DVD of the first tour, with a high def DVD of a subsequent tour in the can and imminent. I say this because, as enjoyable as is "Live at the Union Chapel", the group improves upon the setlist for the orchestral tours. Annie and company seem to genuinely enjoy varying the material, and, knowing now how magical it was to hear "Island" from the Mach 1 period, and the long forgotten gem "Kalynda", "Trip to the Fair" and epics from "Song for all Seasons" with orchestra in 2017 and 2019, makes me feel something is missing here, fair or not.

Of course we are still treated to wonderful versions of standbys like "Prologue", "Carpet of the Sun", "Mother Russia" and the absolute live classic "Ashes are Burning", where the twin keyboardists in particular cut loose. Just watching Tesar's with his studious perfectionism contrasted with Brislin's relatively wild eyed visual and sonic expressions makes my lips curl no matter how many times I see and hear it. Because "Northern Lights" was a hit in the UK, they perform it here and it's enjoyable but diminished somewhat by the guitar parts that, as inferred by rogerthat, probably would have been better served by mimicking Dunford's approach more closely. While the 3 tracks from the reunion album fit in just fine, "Grandine il Vento" and "Mystic and the Muse" especially, they suffer, through no fault of their own, from their placid sedimentary origins rather than the forged magma of an "Ashes".

As a teenager being absolutely numbed by the grandiosity of "A Song for All Seasons" so long ago, I could never have imagined that Renaissance, in any form, would be not only performing their classics but reinvigorating them almost a half century later, to be appreciated by live audiences and people in their living rooms. Wasn't pop music supposed to be ephemeral. Wait what? Oh yeah, this is RENAISSANCE.

kenethlevine | 4/5 |


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